The largest trebuchet ever built: Warwolf in the Siege of Stirling Castle

Three trebuchets in France

In 13th and 14th century Scotland made an attempt to establish its independence from England. It began with First War of Scottish Independence, led by William Wallace. One of results of this war is Mel Gibson’s movie “Braveheart” which may be totally inaccurate historically, but it was epic. King Edward I of England invaded Scotland on March 26, 1296. Scotland was less than happy, and by 1297 was revolting. Scottish morale was quite low after a series of defeats. It didn’t help that some if its strongest castles, including Edinburgh surrendered easily to the English.

Battle of Falkirk took place on July 22, 1298. Scottish army was crushed by Edward I, who raised a huge army. William Wallace waived the Guardianship of Scotland. The English failed to take advantage of this victory, and many Scottish people refused to honor Wallace’s surrender.

The Scottish won’t surrender

It took Edward I six more campaigns in following six years to siege remaining important Scottish strongholds that refused to surrender. England was also losing on diplomatic front. William Wallace managed to visit king Philip IV of France and presumably also the Pope himself in Rome. It resulted in diplomatic pressure on England. Edward I had to release King John Balliol of Scotland, who was kept prisoner since 1296. But the truce was short lived. After conquering most of Scotland, only one vital Stronghold remained in 1304: Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle aerial view
Stirling Castle aerial view (photo by Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Siege of Stirling Castle

Stirling had strategic importance resulting from its location at the lowest bridge of River Forth. The stronghold had strong natural defences. It is situated on a volcanic hill with inaccessible cliffs on three sides. The English had actually taken over the castle back in 1296, and improved its defences, but Scottish side managed to regain control of the castle in year 1300. Edward started his last campaign with army of 9,500 in 1303, but by 1304 only 1,000 soldiers remained. Some died in battle, but many deserted, disheartened by long campaign.

Siege of Stirling Castle started in April 1304 with twelve siege engines and reasonably well provided army of 1,000 standing against small garrison of 30 men led by Sir William Oliphant. The stronghold was continuously bombarded with stone balls, lead balls (made from nearby church roof materials), and incendiary Greek fire.

The largest trebuchet ever built

Siege of Preslav
Siege of Preslav (image credit: public domain, from Madrid Skylitzes)

During the siege King Edward ordered five master carpenters with additional 49 laborers to construct the largest trebuchet ever built. The works took three months to complete. Modern estimates claim that the new trebuchet was 90-120 meters tall (300-400 ft), and was supposedly able to hurl projectiles at a speed of 190 km/h (120 mph). It could effectively toss stones weighing 135 kg (300 lbs) from distance of 200 meters (218 yards). The gigantic siege machine was named War Wolf (or Warwolf spelled together). It had to be carried by 30 wagons.

The defenders at Stirling Castle decided to surrender after noticing the siege engine of formidable size. King Edward would hear none of that. He sent the surrendering party back to the castle. War Wolf needed to be tested. After four more days the besiegers managed to demolish whole wall of Stirling Castle. Only then Edward I allowed the garrison to surrender, and granted them mercy, even though prolonged siege and garrison’s long resistance angered the king.

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3 Comments


  1. This article makes me wanna play Stronghold Crusader again

    Reply

  2. “King Edward would hear none of that. He sent the surrendering party back to the castle. War Wolf needed to be tested.”

    I like his style : )

    Reply

    1. This style seems to have Hollywood parralel to the “death star” of Star Wars, hasn’t it?

      …Commander Tarkin:
      “Since you are reluctant to provide us with the location of the Rebel base, I have chosen to test this station’s destructive power on your home planet of Alderaan.”

      Princess Leia Organa:
      “No! Alderaan is peaceful, we have no weapons. You can’t possibly—”

      Commander Tarkin:
      “You would prefer another target, a military target? Then name the system! I grow tired of asking this, so it will be the last time. Where is the Rebel base?”

      Princess Leia Organa:
      “Dantooine. They’re all on Dantooine.”

      Commander Tarkin:
      “There. You see, Lord Vader? She can be reasonable. Continue with the operation. You may fire when ready.”

      Princess Leia Organa:
      “What?!”

      Commander Tarkin:
      “You’re far too trusting. Dantooine is too remote to make an effective demonstration, but don’t worry. We will deal with your rebel friends soon enough.”

      Reply

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